Archdiocesan Review Board continues to monitor safe environments for young people

Catholic Review - Archdiocese of Baltimore [Baltimore MD]

June 6, 2022

By Christopher Gunty

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (and the accompanying Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons) in June 2002. This is one of a series of articles by the Catholic Review to mark the 20th anniversary of the Charter and its impact on safe environments within the church.

Reports from the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection and the Independent Review Board indicate that the archdiocese continues its efforts to educate about safe environments for young people and to screen clergy, employees and volunteers to determine suitability for ministry.

This is the fifth year for which such reports have been issued. The reports cover the reporting year from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

Archbishop William E. Lori initiated the reports in 2019, with summaries from fiscal years 2017 and 2018 released within months of each other. Since then, the reports have been issued annually.

The Independent Review Board, which was established in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1993, assists the archdiocese with child protection efforts.

The introduction to the reports noted, “During a period of time that continued to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the OCYP has continued to value the oversight and recommendations of the IRB, which has remained active and engaged in promoting healing, restoring the trust of the faithful, and maintaining the highest standards to protect the children entrusted to the care of the church.”

Voice of the Faithful, an independent lay watchdog organization that monitors governance in the church, placed the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the top four dioceses in the country in its recent report that measured abuse prevention and safe environment programs as reported online in diocesan policies and practices.

Only four dioceses scored in the 90s (out of a possible 100) in VOTF’s 2022 report, which examined the websites of all 177 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States and scored each on the content concerning protection of children.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore scored 92.5, behind only the dioceses of Harrisburg, Pa., and Winona-Rochester, Minn. It was the only archdiocese in the top 10. 

In the category regarding diocesan review boards, the archdiocese scored 18 points of 18 possible. Criteria included: names and credentials of DRB members being available online; whether lay people constituted a majority of the non-employee DRB members; whether the DRB chair is a lay person not employed by the diocese; and whether DRB is notified about all abuse allegations.

The Independent Review Board’s report noted, “The archdiocese has committed to report to the IRB all allegations of child sexual abuse involving church personnel of the archdiocese regardless of the age, details, or credibility of the allegation.” The board also reviews archdiocesan policy relating to such misconduct, recommending updates to those policies when appropriate. 

In its statement, the IRB noted it had met four times during the reporting year, as is its custom. Each meeting lasted two to three hours and was attended by Archbishop Lori and other archdiocesan leaders, though the review board also meets, when appropriate, in executive session without the presence of the archbishop or members of his staff.

The report noted that three of the IRB’s eight members are not Catholic. Most of the members are lay professionals with experience in social work, the legal system and education, including one religious sister. The only clergy member is a priest who is a pastor. Four members are women; four are men.

The report said that over the course of its four meetings in the reporting year, the IRB reviewed 30 individual matters, 11 of which were updates involving individuals who had already been reported to the IRB.

The report also noted that three of the matters involved alleged perpetrators whose names were unknown to the archdiocese because the perpetrators were not named by the people who reported the abuse. “In those matters, the name of the victim-survivor was also not reported to the archdiocese,” it said.

Three of the matters brought to the board related to boundary issues with minors.

“The IRB provided advice to the archdiocese regarding continuation of ministry, additional reporting or pastoral outreach, additional screening or training, investigation efforts, and further communications,” the report said.

Eight members of the IRB met individually with the outside child protection auditors appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which conducts an annual audit of diocesan child protection measures.

The archdiocese was again found by the outside auditor to be in compliance – as it has every year since the audits begin – with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which marks its 20th anniversary this June. 

In addition to reviewing records to confirm compliance with the Charter, the auditor interviewed the members of the IRB, the archbishop, other archdiocesan personnel, and some pastors and parish staff members.

The audit period covered reporting years 2019, 2020 and 2021. 

The Office of Child and Youth Protection report said that 29,656 adults received safe environment training as of the end of the reporting year and are approved for employment or volunteering with substantial contact with children.

The office conducted some in-person training for personnel in parishes, schools and youth-serving organizations, to supplement the required online training.

In the reporting year, 35,527 children and youths received safe environment education.

During the same period, 4,795 clergy, religious and employees and 24,861 volunteers working with children had been cleared to work with children after submitting to a criminal history screening as of the end of the reporting year. 

The archdiocese also conducted 31 training sessions for screening coordinators, who assist in ensuring that the parish or school is in full compliance with the requirements of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Child and Youth Protection Policies and Procedures.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore strictly complies with Maryland laws requiring the reporting of suspected child abuse to civil authorities. Under Maryland law, any person who has reason to believe a child has been subjected to abuse must report the suspected abuse to civil authorities, even if the potential victim is now an adult and even if the alleged perpetrator is deceased.

In the reporting year: 

  • The Archdiocese of Baltimore did not receive against clergy any child sexual abuse allegations involving victims who are currently children. 
  • The archdiocese received allegations of child sexual abuse against two archdiocesan priests who were in ministry at the time the allegations were reported. The priests were suspended from ministry pending investigation. 
  • The archdiocese received an allegation of child sexual abuse against a member of a religious order who was serving in ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the time of the report. The allegation was also reported to the religious order, which conducted an investigation. The priest is no longer authorized to serve in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. 
  • The archdiocese also received allegations of possible child sexual abuse against 15 priests, which involved alleged incidents from more than 40 years ago, deceased priests, priests previously removed from ministry, and/or clergy who were not identified. The 15 priests included priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, priests of other dioceses, and members of religious orders.  Some allegations were reports from third parties (i.e., not the alleged victim). Allegations against priests of another diocese or religious order were also reported to the respective diocese or religious order.
  • One volunteer serving in the archdiocese was accused of possible child sexual abuse. The volunteer is no longer eligible to work or volunteer in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  

In all cases of allegations, the alleged abuse was reported to law enforcement, and the archdiocese cooperated with civil authorities.  

According to the report, the current practices in the archdiocese for reaching out to survivors of abuse include: “the Archdiocese of Baltimore reaches out to those who have been harmed by church personnel; the archbishop, vicar bishops, and other church leaders meet with and listen to survivors of abuse; the archdiocese recognizes the importance of not only offering support to those who are abuse survivors, but to their family members as well; the Office of Child and Youth Protection offers survivors counseling and pastoral services with the therapist of their choice, and coordinates a financial mediation program for survivors upon their request for monetary compensation in lieu of counseling.”

In the reporting year, the archdiocese paid $165,607 to provide counseling, therapy and other necessary medical costs for 35 survivors of child sexual abuse or their family members, according to the report. It also paid $198,000 in settlements with survivors of child sexual abuse, including four voluntary settlements through its mediation program for time-barred claims where all of the incidents occurred more than 30 years ago.

If someone associated with the church including clergy, employees, or volunteers in the archdiocese, is suspected of committing abuse, archdiocesan policy requires that the suspected abuse also be reported to the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Office of Child and Youth Protection at 410-547-5348 or to the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Victims’ Assistance Line, staffed by a licensed social worker, at 866-417-7469. 

The report introduction noted that effective June 30, 2021, the end of this reporting year, Joseph Murphy, a retired judge, stepped down from his position as chairman of the IRB after nine years of service. “Judge Murphy’s wise counsel in pursuit of the values set forth in the Charter for the Protection of Children continued to strengthen a culture of protection in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and we are grateful for his dedication,” the report said.

Dr. Jay Perman, M.D., chancellor of the University System of Maryland and former president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, became the IRB’s new chairman.